Council votes unanimously to move forward with fare-free transit in Kansas City

Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

Kansas City City Council voted 13-0 in Thursday’s legislative session to move the city forward in providing free public bus transit.

The resolution directs the City Manager to find the necessary funds that would allow free transit to be possible.

KCATA receives about $8 million annually from bus fares in Kansas City. Currently, a single ride cost $1.50 and a 31-day pass is $50.

The City Manager would then, in collaboration with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, include a funding request in the next fiscal year’s budget (2020-2021) and present findings on the fiscal impact of that request.

“It will give us information as we go into our budget deliberations on what changes had to be made, if any, for existing programs,” said Councilwoman Shields. “I think we need to know what decision the City Manager is making so we can weigh-in on funding this. If something needs to be cut or curtailed, what exactly is it going to be?”

Councilman Brandon Ellington said he supported the city’s move to free transit.

“I think this is one of the important things we can do,” he said. “We all come from different communities and have different beliefs on fiscal responsibility. When we talk about the price tag of being able to do free transit and improve the lives of citizens here, I think this is a necessity.”

Councilwoman Heather Hall said she believes this is something that is long overdue.

“Everyone knows how I feel about the street car—it’s free—and I think we need to be commensurate with all of our transit. If our street car is free, then our bus should be free, so this is a no-brainer in my opinion.”

Councilman Eric Bunch, who considers himself a choice transit rider, said there are times when the bus he rides is 15 minutes late because of heavy boarding and individuals paying with coins to board the bus.

“I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I believe that people have a right to move about this city and maybe, instead of calling it ‘fare-free transit,’ maybe we should call it ‘free to move about the city.’”

Mayor Pro-Tem Kevin McManus said it is critical to look at every possible way to make transit free in the city.

“It presents us with options to make sure we are doing it in the best way possible. For me the most important thing isn’t that we just do it in one year’s budget, but that we come up with a systematic way to fund it longitudinally.”

McManus added that this vote does not automatically make transit free in the city, but is a step forward in that direction.

“I want everybody to know who is following that this doesn’t make transit free in the city. This is a pledge of this council saying we want to make free transit happen, but ultimately, it’s budget dependent. It’s an appropriation decision and I think it’s not just a one year budget decision. We need to make sure we have a way to do it in the future.”

Councilman Kevin O’Neill discussed his continued concerns around what exactly would be cut to fund this operation.

“What is going away when you are finding the money? In this case, I think us having to look at what is being cut is important. It’s easy to say ‘I love free transit,’ but there is going to be a price to pay and this gives us an opportunity to see that.”

Mayor Quinton Lucas said he wants to not only look at funding, but sustainability, and even threw out the idea of taking $2 million from the streetcar.

“I think what is fair for us to say is not only where does it come from but how do we make this a sustainable program,” he said. “Maybe somebody will finally say we take $2 million back from the streetcar, which to me, is totally uncontroversial. As someone who has introduced and passed these resolutions before that are very good policy, actually identifying the source of funds, so you can fight for them, is key and vital.”

The council voted unanimously to the resolution.

The City Manager will now work on finding funds for this service and will present findings in January to the Finance, Governance, and Public Safety Committee of which Councilwoman Katheryn Shields is chair.

The Prospect MAX route began service Monday, December 9 and will be free to ride until February 2020.

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